Manny Machado Comes Up To Help, Not Save, The Orioles

Clearwater, FL, USA; Baltimore Orioles shortstop Manny Machado in the field during the bottom of the first inning of a spring training game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Bright House Networks Field. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

The Manny Machado Era is starting earlier than expected, and it might not be a crazy idea after all.

I'm not sure if it's fair or unfair for Manny Machado to get promoted during the Holy Crap Mike Trout Bryce Harper Era, as historians will surely refer to it.

It's fair -- desirable, even -- because you aren't going to spend your afternoon picking hype shrapnel out of your torso. That's a good thing for the sanity of baseball fans, and it's certainly a good thing for the young shortstop.

It's unfair because Machado probably deserves a good amount of hype. He's one of the best prospects in the game, and he's coming up in a pennant race a month after turning 20. This is kind of a big deal. What should the Orioles expect?

Not a whole heckuva lot, if they're going to be practical about it.

Machado is a great prospect; Machado might not be quite ready for the majors. Both things can be true. John Sickels doesn't see a problem with the move, though:

Well, this is certainly a risk, but perhaps not as much as you might think on the surface. Machado is hitting .266/.352/.438 with 11 homers, 48 walks, and 70 strikeouts in 402 at-bats for Bowie. That line is in the "decent but not outstanding" category. However, keep in mind that he's only been 20 years old for a month and that the park/league factors favor pitchers.

He's performing very well indeed, all things considered. He's also killing left-handed pitching (.303/.394/.523), and is currently very hot, hitting .444/.512/.889 over his last 10 games. Deployed with some caution and with reasonable expectations, Machado can hold his own.

Machado is eventually expected to do much more than hold his own; he's supposed to be a middle-of-the-order beast at a middle-infield position. That's a rare, special creature. People who bring up Alex Rodriguez should be tazed, but it's hard not to go there when you think of a big shortstop prospect drafted out of a Miami high school. If Machado is 60 percent the player that Rodriguez was, he'll be an All-Star for years.

But he's not going to do it right away. Those numbers up there -- the .266 average, .352 on-base percentage, and .438 slugging percentage -- are impressive for a 19-year-old in Double-A, but only in context. You have to know Machado's age for the stats to be impressive. It's all impressive in context, but nothing suggests he can hit much better in the majors right now.

Then there's defense. Machado has 22 errors this year at shortstop, which makes sense. Making errors is kind of what teenaged shortstops do. When Derek Jeter was Machado's age, he made 56 errors in Low-A. Machado is probably a little advanced defensively for his age, actually. That doesn't mean he's not going to be error-prone in the majors, especially when you consider he's likely going to play a lot of third base in the majors -- a position he's played twice in his life.

So expectations should be low. The instant successes enjoyed by Harper and (especially) Trout are both freakish outliers. Machado shouldn't do much, at least not yet. To this point, then, you might think the Orioles are rushing things, that they might be making a mistake by promoting Machado. Except I like the move for two reasons:

1. Just because he might not be a devourer of worlds right away, doesn't mean he might not be the best option for the Orioles right now. Wilson Betemit is pretty miserable defensively at third. Robert Andino can't hit. Mark Reynolds was bad enough to move off the position for good.

You can look at Machado's errors in Double-A and worry a bit, but he's not replacing someone who fields like Brooks Robinson. He's replacing players who field like Frank Robinson. A 76-year-old Frank Robinson, standing at third and glowering at the hitter with his hands on his hips.

2. Machado is coming up at a good time in Orioles history. He gets to join an Orioles team that can hold its head high, an Orioles team that isn't running around and falling into ditches like they're in the bad guys in a Police Academy movie. Even if the Orioles collapse down the stretch, he'll still get to feel what a pennant race is like. He won't be the savior of a decrepit franchise, with all eyes on him. He gets to be an exciting cog.

What's that worth? Heck, I don't know. Seems like it should be worth something. From a strict numbers standpoint, Machado isn't likely to help a ton. But he certainly could help the team a little. More importantly, he could help himself a lot by soaking it all in.

He doesn't have the hype or expectations of a Harper or Trout, but Machado is a good enough prospect to allow Orioles fans to put the word "Era" after his name. As in, here begins the Manny Machado Era. It's not ridiculous to put it like that. And it gets to start when the Orioles are focused on something else for once.

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